Zechs led Wufei, numb with grief over the loss of his friend, along the arduous hike over the desert hills. They hid within the shadows and deep crevices, having formed over time by the sparse yet heavy rainfall that the desert infrequently experienced, whenever they heard the approaching sound of a scouting mobile suit or when an aircraft that flew over head. Together they moved quickly and with caution away from the captured base. Zechs found himself making one-sided conversation, encouraging his companion onward when Wufei's footsteps faltered. They traveled with as much stealth as possible for the remainder of the morning and continued when they could during the heat of the day. When night fell, they continued their directionless trek, finding some relief in the cooler temperature and stopped only when exhaustion overtook them and they rested til dawn.
As the light and promising heat of a new day arrived, so did a low flying Federation search and rescue hover ship. Recognizing it, the two teens flagged it down by waving their shirts wildly in the air. Once they were sighted, the pilot quickly landed the craft and ushered the two grungy and grateful soldiers on board, expressing his happiness at finding the two survivors. He went on to tell them that since the Red River Base had been captured, he'd only found eighteen Federation soldiers who had managed to escape into the desert.
Wufei sat silent and withdrawn in the air conditioned ship while Zechs chatted with the pilot as he maneuvered the craft back towards a rendezvous point with a transporting chopper. The tall blond told the shuttle pilot of their escape and described the scene the destroyed base. They both speculated about the next step the Allied forces would take and the Federation's response, ignoring Wufei as he continued to silently grieve for his fallen friend.
The first leg of the trip of safety lasted an hour and during that time the pilot entered their ID numbers into the computer system so that their status went from MIA to rescued. Wufei heard the process being carried out, and his only consolation was that his family would feel some relief in knowing he hadn't been killed on his first day in the military. He didn't doubt that they would feel he had honored them for having escaped to fight again and his name would be praised in his absence even though he had really done nothing but get the hell out of Dodge, as Duo would say. That thought brought another pain to his heart. He would never hear those stupid sayings from his friend again.
A transfer to the transporting helicopter and several hours later, the two rescued soldiers, weary and covered with desert sand, rather rank smelling and sun burned, exited the chopper to step onto yet another tarmac of an unfamiliar base that looked very much like the captured base they left behind. The area around the military installation was flat and uninteresting to the eye as waves of heat rippled up from the black surface of the runway, blurring the dull grey buildings in the distance.
Wufei trudged behind Zechs, similar as to how he'd blindly followed the taller teen while in a deep state of grief in the desert; his head was down and his mind and body felt dull and lifeless. At the sound of rapid footfalls and the call of his name from a familiar voice, he looked up with startled eyes and a dumbfounded expression on his face.
"Where is he?" Heero's voice held a definite touch of desperation to it and as Wufei looked closer, so did his eyes.
"Y...you're alive!" Wufei, still flummoxed, barely managed to get the words out of his dry mouth and past his chapped lips. He looked and felt perfectly stunned at Heero's presence.
Heero nodded, but his hand noticeably trembled as it reached up to grip Wufei's shoulder. "Where is Duo? Why isn't he with you?" he asked, his eyes boring into the Chinese boy's face.
Here was the moment Wufei had prayed he wouldn't have to face. It might have been easier if Heero had died in battle, he thought. In any event, he would know his time was short when his question was answered. "Gone," Wufei answered in a choked whisper as his mournful eyes began to fill with excess moisture. "He was hit by a sniper as we were escaping and died covering our backs until we could get to safety and take the enemy out."
Heero blinked at the boy he and Duo had grown to trust. "But he's listed as wounded in action and a POW."
Wufei rubbed at his irritated eyes, then looked up confused. "What?" he asked confused, knowing he couldn't have heard right.
"He must have survived because he's listed on the international Red Cross site as a POW." Heero repeated.
"He's alive?" An incredulous look crossed the Chinese boy's face. Then in a spontaneous, uncharacteristic gesture, he threw his arms around Heero's neck and wildly thumped him on the back in celebration. "He's alive!" he shouted excitedly, his eyes bright and watery. "Alive!"
Heero patted Wufei's back in return, but his face remained stoically serious. Wufei pulled back, his watery smile fading as he took in Heero's expression.
"But we won't be for long unless I can get to him," Heero stated in somber tone.
For the first time since he'd arrived, Wufei took a good and complete assessment of Heero. He was still dressed in his dirty flight suit and there was a look of deep fatigue around his eyes, his eyebrows were pinched together and the furrow between them indicated Heero was in pain. Then, as the Japanese teen brought his hand up to habitually rake his fingers through his hair, Wufei could see the slight tremor in his hand. Heero had always held up better than Duo when they were separated for too long of a time. If Heero was this visibly affected, Wufei could only imagine the consequences to Duo, especially if he was injured.
"I'm in," he told Heero, knowing the Japanese boy would understand his meaning. "Just tell me what to do."
Heero closed his eyes for a moment, then nodded his acceptance of Wufei's offer.
Zechs, who had been looking around at the new base, had also kept an ear turned to the conversation between the two Asian boys. He turned his head to stare incredulously at the two. "You're going to go back and rescue him?" he asked.
"I have to," Heero replied blandly. "There is no choice in the matter."
"What does your new commander say about this plan of yours?" Zechs asked in a challenging voice. "You're in the military now Heero. You can't just do whatever you want and think people are going to let you because you were top of the class at training school. That's not how it works in the real world. You'll have to get someone higher up in command to agree with your decision to risk your lives in order to rescue Maxwell?"
"It wouldn't be just Duo," Heero answered calmly. "Anderson, Winner and Chow are also listed as prisoners of war."
"And the others?" Zechs asked. "What happened to Barton, Kamwansa and Nadil?"
Heero studied the taller boy for a moment then answered his question. "Nadil and Kamwansa are listed as casualties. Trowa is not listed and so we're hoping he'll show up. He's currently listed as MIA."
Over Heero's shoulder, Zechs spied a familiar person, Kahn Knaphasey. The pilot had recognized the small group of greenies and turned to advance on them.
"Sir," Heero came to attention for the man who was now his superior. Zechs and Wufei both followed his example, sensing from Heero's formal attitude that there had been some change in rank with the man who had been rather friendly to them the day before.
"Chang, Peacecraft," the dark haired captain acknowledged the two. "Glad you made it out alright. Now if we can find Barton, we'll have all of you accounted for one way or another. Because Captain Dunstan was lost in the battle yesterday, I've been put in temporary command of your group. After you've showered and rested, I'll bring you up to date and introduce you to your new suits. Seems we have a shortage of pilots, so we'll need to bring you up to speed for the upcoming battle."
"Sir," Heero spoke sharply addressing the slightly older soldier. "Permission to mount a rescue mission."
"For whom?" the Laotian asked, looking puzzled.
"For the four captured pilots, sir. They're the best from the training facility and their capture could be used against us if they remain in the enemy's hands."
The Laotian captain frowned in response to Heero's suggestion. "They're greenies and inexperienced in comparison to the well seasoned pilots that were captured during the last two days. If we rescue anyone, it would have to be the fully trained pilots. Request denied."
The tremor in Heero's hand was more visible as he reached for his I.D. tags hanging from a chain that was clasped around his neck. "Sir," he pulled the tags out and held it so that his I.D. number was visible to the young captain. "I have a special circumstances order."
Kahn leaned forward and studied the tags that Heero referred to. His eyes widened with recognition of the unique code. "How the hell did you obtain that?" he asked with obvious surprise, his eyes quickly rising from the tag to meet the pained eyes of the Japanese pilot.
"It's top secret, sir. I'm not allowed to say other than I need to retrieve one of the captured pilots who has the same code on his tags." With that said, Heero clamped his mouth shut.
Captain Knaphasey stood quietly thoughtful for a moment before remarking. "Alright, your code indicates that you can defer from any orders in order to follow your own course of action without explanation to me. At this point I can walk away with no interference to you and no repercussions to myself. However," he studied the boy before him, noting the pinched face and shoulders and the fact that the hands at the boy's side were clenched and shaking. "If you're going to launch a rescue, I would imagine you have a good reason for doing so. What can I do to help?"
Though he felt almost weak with relief, Heero nodded and kept up a good face even as he felt himself physically deteriorating with each hour he spent distanced from Duo. He needed to retrieve him as quickly as possible. If he was feeling this badly, he knew that Duo was suffering even more.
"I need to go back to the base and rescue those who were taken prisoner."
"You're crazy, Yuy," Zechs gave his teammate a reproachful look. "We lost the base and it's swarming with enemy soldiers."
Eyes blazing with anger and desperation turned to glare venomously at the blond. "I have no choice, Zechs," he said in a dark tone of voice. "I either go or I'm a dead man."
A look of disbelief crossed the face of the tallest of the four conversing. "What do you mean? You're here and safe, your life is not in any imminent danger."
"I meant exactly what I said," Heero growled back. "We'll prepare this afternoon and leave at nightfall. I'll need to find a way into the base and then get to one of their computers to locate the prisoners."
"We found an underground passage and used it to make our escape," Wufei told Heero, his heart suddenly feeling lighter and he felt re-charged with a purpose again. "We could go back into the base that way, but the upper passages were blocked by rubble."
Kahn nodded. "No doubt they've cleared it in order to rescue some of the prisoners they captured. The Allied forces are humane when it comes to treating their prisoners well, they would have sought out the wounded the moment the base was theirs."
The Laotian man looked at the three young soldiers now looking at him for leadership and wiped away some of the sweat that had gathered on his forehead as the heat of the day grew more intense. "I suggest, gentlemen, that we take this planning session inside. Heero and I will gather maps and supplies while you two clean up. We'll get fresh clothing for you on the way in."
Both Wufei and Zechs gave their new captain a grateful smile. Kahn then turned and led the way into the base. As they walked Wufei placed himself next to Heero. "How are you holding up?" he asked, knowing from past experience that Heero hid the signs of his discomfort very well.
"I'm still functional," Heero replied in a calm but tight voice. "But I can feel myself steadily slipping." He turned to look at his companions and said more softly, "I can only imagine how this is affecting Duo."
"You can't communicate with him?"
Heero shook his head. "When I was ordered to leave the base, I found that I couldn't drop my shields to tell him what was happening. By the time I calmed down enough to drop them, I was too far away, at least that's what I think the trouble is."
Wufei nodded and bit back the urge to tell the other boy of Duo's attempts to contact him and his fear that Heero had died as a result of not succeeding. Seeing the slight evidence of Heero's pain and his heroic struggle in trying to deal with it, Wufei decided to keep the information to himself, knowing Heero really didn't need any added stress from learning of Duo's sense of hopeless when he couldn't reach his partner. "I'm sorry that I left him, Heero," he said to his companion. "Duo was wounded by the sniper's bullet and it was a bad hit with internal injuries. Moving him just a little caused him to pass out. There was no way he would have survived our race to the hills and the walk in the desert. An Allied mobile suit was headed in our direction when we ran. I can only guess that it must have recovered him." With guilt and remorse on his face, he met Heero's pained eyes. "And neither of us are there to help him, Heero," Wufei's voice sounded as tormented as he felt.
Heero merely pursed his lips together and nodded. "Maybe Quatre or the others will reach out to help him," he suggested, hoping to assuage his and Wufei's worry. "At least until I can get there." They both understood that Duo's suffering would end only when that happened, and they both knew it had to be soon.
Quatre was feeling very uncomfortable. Aware of his injuries, Commander Treize insisted he lie down on the large bed and rest. Pillows were used to ease him into a raised position and others were used to prop up and support his broken arm and collar bone. The doctor had given him a pain pill and he'd dozed off and on through the rest of the evening and into the early hours of the night. He woke up feeling Duo's body thrashing about next to him, his moans were becoming increasingly louder and gave evidence of his increased pain.
"Heero!" Duo cried out suddenly and Quatre reached over with his good arm to take Duo's hand into his own. At their first touch, Duo turned over and latched onto him. "Heero," Duo called out again with weak desperation.
"No Duo, it's me, Quatre."
But the long haired boy didn't seem to hear his voice or care for that matter as his hand moved across Quatre's chest. Quatre tried to stop his friend, but Duo seemed to either be asleep or to be completely unaware of his actions. His body and mind acted instinctively and sought out the comfort that only Heero could give him. His hands were touching, searching frantically for a way to get beyond the blanket and shirt the blond wore. Quatre tried to figure a way out of the predicament he'd found himself in, but his thoughts disintegrated when Duo rolled over and pulled up just enough to latch his seeking mouth over his lips and, unknowingly of whose lips he'd taken, began to kiss him with a fierce urgency that spoke of his desperation to connect with his partner.
Paralyzed into place by shock and the agonizing pain from his broken bones, Quatre could only lay still and allow the unaware boy to plunder his mouth. His weak attempts at protesting came out as a low moan.
Treize had gotten to his feet the minute Duo called out and now stood next to the bed with his mouth hanging open with disbelief displayed on his face as he watched the two beautiful boys making out on his bed. With eyes wide open and taking it all in, he observed the long haired boy's hand wander across the nearly helpless blond boy's body and watched as it lowered and began to rub the slight mound at the top juncture of the blond's legs, covered by the blanket and medical scrub suit that was give to all injured POWs.
Treize was aware that his heart rate had accelerated and that his own body was reacting to the scene before him. A slight sheen of sweat broke out on his skin and his slacks definitely became tighter. He'd never considered himself gay but rather open minded, but damn, the sight of the two boys kissing was turning him on.
As the long haired boy shifted slightly, the face of the boy beneath him became visible to the man above them. Panicked blue eyes silently beseeched him to do something. Treize acted immediately and carefully pulled the desperately seeking brunet from off of his friend's body.
Duo struggled for a moment before he collapsed and folded in on himself, curling into a tight ball once again. Only a small whimper of disappointment escaped his lips.
Though in a considerable amount of pain and thoroughly embarrassed by what had just happened, especially in front of the enemy's base commander, Quatre reached out and touched his friend's upper arm. "S'okay, Duo," he whispered in a tight voice with his eyes closing against the sight of the pained boy across from him. "It's okay."
"What can I do to help?" The young commander asked. He could see both boys were suffering and he felt helpless as to what he could do to help.
With pain-filled eyes opening slightly, Quatre appealed to the man. "Hold him. It gives him some comfort. Not enough, but it helps."
The sandy haired man had just returned from his rounds of the secured base, having overseen the excavation of the ruined buildings to rescue any other solders or personnel trapped beneath it. He'd also met with his top officers, delegating responsibility to each, then returned to his room to relieve the nurse and to eat his very late in the evening meal that now sat cold. He had just let the woman return to her quarters when Duo had pounced on the unsuspecting blond boy.
Looking down, he watched the boy on the bed as he lay curled tightly into himself, his brown mane of hair was all over the bed and becoming tangled. Treize took note of the IV lines that had become twisted as the boy had turned to his companion. Coming to a decision, the tall man carefully untaped and removed the IV line then scooped the trembling teen into his arms. Grabbing the top blanket off the bed, he carried it and the boy with him to the chair still sitting next to the bed and sat down. Arranging the smaller body to a comfortable position, the teenager's head tucked under his chin, Treize then drew the blanket around the quaking body.
"Shh.." he hushed the boy gently. "You're safe."
The delirious boy's body moved just slightly, just enough so that he could wrap his arms around the man who held him snugly. Treize could feel the slight body shaking and suddenly the boy uttered one word. "Heero." The word was said in a small whispered sob that escaped the pale lips.
Treize held the boy closer and rocked his body in what he hoped was a comforting manner. Whoever the boy was calling for, he needed him desperately, and Treize knew in that moment that if he knew who it was that Duo kept pleading for, he would do all in his power to bring that person to him. Raising his head, he looked up to see the blond boy watching him from his propped up position on the bed. "What else can I do for him?" he asked the other boy.
Quatre swallowed hard. It was more difficult than he believed to see Duo in such desperate straits. "Could you look on the Red Cross postings to see if Heero Yuy is listed as a casualty?" he asked.
"Heero?" The light began to dawn in the commander's eyes. "Is he calling out for his boyfriend?"
Quatre shook his head. "No, you don't understand. I can't explain it to you. They're..." he stopped, knowing he should not say anything more. But if Heero was dead, Duo would also die, no matter what they did for him. It wasn't as if the Federation was totally responsible for what happened to the two boys, but their funds had allowed the scientists to experiment, causing the two to be genetically altered, becoming what they were and placing Duo in the life and death situation he now found himself in. Taking in a painful, deep breath, Quatre looked once again at the young base commander, deciding that maybe a brief explanation might help his friends without giving away all their secrets or betraying his government. "They're ...linked. Empathic, but only to each other. Without the other, they...their bodies react strongly and start to fail. If Heero is dead, then Duo will follow." He looked sadly at his beautiful friend still twitching slightly as a result from some inward agony.
"How did this happen?" Treize asked, looking both shocked and skeptical at the boy's explanation. "Are they identical twins? Empaths are rare, but as far as I know they don't generally have such a fatal link, do they?"
"No, not that I've ever heard of." Quatre replied.
"How old are they?"
Treize thought a moment, mentally doing a little math in his head and recalling certain information from his memory. "Were they part of the genetic experimentation that was discovered by your government roughly sixteen years ago to create future soldiers?"
Quatre's eyes widened in surprise that the man had knowledge of information that was kept hidden from many in the upper echelons of the Federation government.
Treize read from the boy's shocked expression that his guess was correct. "I have access to almost all classified information gathered from our intelligence section," he explained. He then looked down at the boy fitfully resting in his arms. "So they're genetically linked. If one dies, the other one dies too?"
Quatre looked at Duo and reluctantly nodded.
Treize looked up to catch the answer. "Seems the scientists went a bit too far in trying to create their perfect soldiers," he said thoughtfully. "I have to wonder if all their test subjects were created similarly. This boy and his Heero certainly appear to have a very large Achilles' heel."
"Too big of one," Quatre was now fighting back tears.
Treize reached over to the table next to him and picked up his cell phone. Pressing three numbers, he then put it to his ear. "Doctor," he greeted the man on the other end of the line. "Could you please check the International Red Cross site and the Federation's Soldiers Status Listings to see if a Heero..." he raised a questioning eyebrow to the teen on the bed.
"Yuy," Quatre supplied the last name. "Y. U. Y." He spelled it out. "Heero Yuy."
"Heero Yuy," the commander repeated and spelled the last name for the doctor. He readjusted the phone and his hold on the teen in his arms as the boy began to shake again. Duo's slight whimpers were the only sound in the room for several minutes as they waited for the information. Quatre kept his eyes on the two in the chair as he fought to keep his eyes open.
"I see," Treize replied. "Not MIA, POW or listed as wounded. I see. Thank you, doctor." The commander turned off his cell and put it back on the table. "It seems this Heero Yuy is alive and well as he's not listed in any category on the net."
"Then he'll be coming," Quatre said with a certainly.
Treize frowned and looked thoughtfully at the boy in his arms. "I can't imagine he could go anywhere or do anything if he's in as bad a shape as his friend here."
"Duo's injury adds to his decline," Quatre reminded him. "And he's always taken their separations harder. He hypothesized that it was because he was genetically configured to be Heero's subordinate and the more emotional of the two."
"So the two need to be together to function?" Treize asked.
"Yes," Quatre answered with no small amount of guilt at the information he was giving the other man, "to function and to live." He was giving away Duo and Heero's secret, one he had kept so well in the past. There was just something about Commander Kushrenada that seemed trustworthy and honorable, and using his own special abilities, he could feel that their enemy truly did seem to care what happened to Duo. He studied the man carefully holding his friend. Quatre rationalized that Kushrenada saved Duo's life after all, and continued to protect him when he was helpless. Maybe, with a little information and persuasion, the man could be convinced in helping reunite Heero and Duo and help them survive.
Treize sat thoughtfully for a moment. "How close do they have to be to function?" he questioned.
"Close," Quatre answered.
"How do they cope?" Treize couldn't quite figure out how two people could survive always needing to be next to each other in order to not only function, but to also exist.
"It hasn't been easy and their past experiences are interesting stories," Quatre answered. "They were separated when the project was discontinued and didn't find each other until they were twelve. They had a rough period of time trying to adjust and learn to tolerate their differences, which are many. As they've gotten older and accepted each other on a personal basis, their...bond increased and their separation time has become limited."
"How will they live normal lives, have girlfriends or get married and have families?" Treize asked, obviously forgetting with the new revelation the Duo had tried to make out with Quatre only moments before.
"The scientists didn't have those things in mind when they created two boys to be a fighting team. They created them genetically to be compatible to each other, to meet each other's needs and not seek it from the female gender."
Treize's eyes widened in shock as Quatre's words sunk in. "Did the scientists believe they were Gods?" he asked, looking horrified. "How dare they manipulate the lives of two infants in such a way."
It was clear the man was as repulsed by the revelation of the experiments that had brought about the lives of the two boys as much as those few at the Training Facility who had also learned of the their origins. In his mind, the blond could still clearly see Commander Reid's and the doctor's shock and horrified expressions at the revelation of just who and what the two unusual boys were.
"Without knowing them, one might make the mistake of considering them to be the mere result of experiments performed at the extreme far edge of moral responsibility." Quatre continued hoping to clarify things for the other man. "But Duo and Heero are two unique and wonderful human beings. Both are separate individuals sharing similar yet varied talents and differing personalities. Their lives have not been easy, but they also are more human than I believe the scientists desired. They have become more than what a mad man in a lab coat dreamed of. They are not mere weapons, but boys caught in a circumstance beyond their control that makes them inseparable." Quatre sighed and gave a fond smile to the boy in the man's arms. "Somehow, they've managed to work it out and are content with their lot in life. " His eyes rose, pleading with the base commander. "Please, don't think of them as anything other than two human beings who have a full and happy life ahead of them. That is, if they can just survive this war."
After several moments of quiet, Treize looked at his watch to see it was nearing eleven p.m. "You should get some more rest," he advised the blond. Then turning his eyes back to the boy in his arms, he brought his hand up to brush away some of the long stray strands of hair that lay against the boy's face. Duo's body was curled around the older man's body, his neck and shoulder rested on the base commander's upper arm. Treize let his hand fall to gently stroke the teen's cheek and Duo instinctively turned his face into the touch, seeking but not finding the connection he craved. "Did they engineer his beauty to keep this Heero bonded to him?" He asked the puzzling question out loud.
"No," Quatre replied. "At least I don't think so. Their connection is..." he huffed in frustration. "I can't really explain it. It's physical but has nothing to do with outward appearances." Quatre paused to give his friend a smile of fondness. "But I think Duo's attractiveness could make even a pious man to have forbidden thoughts about him."
The commander gave the blond a wry smile, feeling some relief at the boy's words that he probably wasn't the only person shocked to find the boy in his arms causing some unwarranted physical response from his own body.
"If Heero can make it here, you won't hurt him, will you?" Quatre asked, a trace of worry and fear on his face.
"If harm comes to any of my soldiers because of his actions, I may have to hold this Heero accountable. But otherwise, no. I won't harm him. He will be like the salmon returning instinctively to the same place each year to spawn, or a bear going into hibernation. I couldn't punish him for returning for the boy he needs to survive. Like other things in nature, instincts are all about survival, and we all want to survive."
Quatre let down his barriers once again and scanned the man sitting in the chair next to his bed. He felt no deceit in him, his words and actions seemed to be sincere. Feeling content in knowing that Duo was in the care of an apparently honorable man, Quatre let himself sink further into his pillows and closed his weary eyes. Much of the worry and strain he'd felt began to ease out of him in the belief that he was, for the moment, safe. And as sleep drew near, he became more aware how much his body ached. Duo's desperate attempt to connect with him, thinking he was Heero, had aggravated his wounds even more.
On the very edge of sleep, he heard the sound of a cell phone being dialed.
'Sargent Tobler please," Treize's voice said quietly. "This is Commander Kushrenada," he continued after a moment. "I want you to ease the security around the perimeter of the base tonight. Yes, I know that leaves us open to attack, but I have a good reason for such a request. Just do it. I want only four men stationed around the perimeter of the base tonight."
On to Chapter seventeen
Back to Chapter fifteen